Story of rescue

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“Halinko, maybe you'll come to my home?”. The story of the Fangrat family

During the course of the German occupation, Zofia and Stefan Fangrat lived in Głuchów, where they raised seven daughters. They earning their living from a shop in their home. A nearby road, connecting Rawa Mazowiecka with Łódź, was used by the Germans, so that they were often in their shop. 

In March 1941, a ghetto was established in Głuchów, 12 kms from Rawa Mazowiecka. Friends of the Fangrat family, the Jewish Leszczyński family (the pre-war owners of a shoemaker's workshop in Głuchów), were forced to live in the ghetto. Zofia, knowing the difficult situtaion which prevailed in that closed-off district, entered the ghetto illegally and provided them with food.

The Leszczyński couple had a small daughter, seven-year-old Halina. After the war, Anna, one of the Fangrat's daughter, stated:

When the Jewish families learned of the news that the ghetto might be liquidated the following day, Halinka's parents let Zofia and Stefan Fangrat know in Głuchów, so that they would come and take her to their home as soon as possible. That same day, in the winter of 1942 [the ghetto was liquidated on 27th October 1942 – red.], my parents left by horse-drawn cart, in the evening, to bring Halinka to Głuchów.

The little girl settled in with the Polish family. Halina Leszczyńska recalled:

Zofia Fangrat turned to me, saying, “Halinko, maybe you will come to live with me?”. As a child, I didn't want to be separated from my parents. But my parents, realising that a tragic end was approaching, seized the “rescue raft”.

According to Halina, apart from the families being on friendly terms, an important factor which infuenced the decision to save the child was faith: “The Fangrat family was very religious which, undoubtedly, influenced their high sense of love others and their willingness to help in the tragic situation of the ghett”.

The Fangrat family told their neighbours that Halina was Zofia's orphaned niece, whose parents had perished during the bombing of Warsaw and who, for a short time, the couple would have to care for. The little girl had no papers. She was taught to introduce herself as “Halina Niedźwiedzicka”. For fear of prying neighbours and also the Germans who visited their shop, Halina rarely went outside and, at times of danger, she went into the attic, to a hiding-place under the floor. That hiding-place proved useful on more than - especially when German officers came to the house after having been informed that a Jew was hiding there. Anna recalled: “For a seven-year-old child, she was very smart and obedient. She was more like a grown adult than a child. She understood very well the situation that she, and also we, were in”.

In the event that Halina would be stopped by the Germans, the Fangrat family had taught her how to pray and Stefan had given her a chain with a cross. 

When a woman, who worked in the shop, began asking Halina if she was Jewish, assuring her that she would not tell anyone, the Fangrats decided to send the girl away for a while. They took her to relatives in Częstochowa. Her stay there did not last long, when neighbours there also began to susopect that she was Jewish.

On the morning of 24th August 1944, the Germans began making arrests in Głuchów. Suddenly hearing a banging on the door, Zofia put the girl into bed together with her own daughters, three-year-old twins, and told her to turn her face towards the wall. The Germans barged into the house. They did not notice the girls, but took Stefan away. A few days later, on 16th September, he was shot at the Jewish cemetary in Tomaszów Mazowiecki.

Halina lived together with Zofia and her daughters until the end of the occupation. As the war concluded, they fled from the oncoming Red Army offensive. During the battle, the Germans bombed and burned the buildings on the Fangrat farm. 

After the war, Zofia, her daughters and Halina lived together in Głuchów, in a rented apartment. During the occupation, Zofia had already fallen ill with cancer. She feared that she would not be strong enough to care for Halina so, on 3rd November 1945, she placed her into an orphanage in Helenówek near Łódż. The girl remained there until her uncle came to collect her. He was her father's younger brother and had spent the war in the USSR. Zofia died in 1948 and her daughters left Głuchów. Their contact with Halina had broken. In 1957, Halina married and left for Israel. It was only fifty years later that contact was restored.

In 2001, Zofia and Stefan Fangrat, together with their daughters, were honoured with the title of Righteous Among the Nations.

Bibliography

  • Archiwum Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego, Dział Dokumentacji Odznaczeń Yad Vashem, 349/24/2547
  • Urbański Krzysztof, Zagłada Żydów w dystrykcie radomskim, Kraków 2004